Blog Home Contributor Tutorial: How to Record a Viral Top-Down Cooking Video

Short, mouth-watering food footage is all the rage on social media. Learn how to set up and shoot in the popular top-down cooking video format with this tutorial.

If you’re anything like me, you might be addicted to watching minute-long videos of people cooking delicious dishes on social media. These videos are popular everywhere, from Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to online food and cooking publications like Bon Appétit’s Basically. These bite-size recipe videos are not only entrancing – they’re also a great way to build your social channels. The content style is extremely pliable and can be tailored to your social channel’s unique focus, voice, and themes.

Here’s how to correctly set up a top-down social media cooking video, including how to assemble your camera and how to set up lights to perfectly showcase your cooking.

Let’s get cookin’!

Assemble Your Spread

Tutorial: How to Record a Viral Top-Down Cooking Video – Assemble Your Spread

First off, decide what you’re going to cook. What does your audience wants to see? What will fit your social voice? What are YOU interested in cooking?

Decide on a recipe and buy all of your ingredients from the store. It doesn’t hurt to buy a bit more than you think you’ll need – you never know what could go wrong once you fire up the hotplate.

Place all of your ingredients on a table, and pay careful attention to how you present them. I picked up a set of matching dishes and accoutrements from a big-box store for around $20 on clearance, but you could also venture to a thrift shop or your own kitchen cabinets to find the right plating style.

Rig Your Camera

Tutorial: How to Record a Viral Top-Down Cooking Video – Rig Your Camera

The rig I used requires a removable tripod head, a C-Stand, and some sandbags. To set up this same rig, detach the tripod head from the sticks, and cinch it to your C-Stand head. Lay the sandbags on your C-Stand for added stability. Attach your camera and adjust accordingly to get a level shot.

If you don’t have a tripod or a C-Stand, check out this article, where you will find a link to a dedicated top-down camera rig for only $200. It’s a lot less cumbersome than a C-Stand rig, and it gives you ample working space while maintaining a steady shot.

Rig Your Lights

Tutorial: How to Record a Viral Top-Down Cooking Video – Rig Your Lights

For my set-up I used an Apture Softbox that pointed down onto the table. The softbox provides a soft diffused light that eliminates shadows. If there’s one thing I can recommend for this set-up, it is to use ONLY diffused light and avoid hard light. Hard light will produce bad shadows that won’t translate well on camera.

If you don’t have a softbox or the money in your budget to buy one, check out this article on how to achieve diffused light using household items. One trick I’ve  used in the past is wax paper taped over a pointable-lamp. This diffuses the light just enough to eliminate shadows and properly light your table.

Remember The 4 Key Principles of The Cooking Video

Most cooking videos follow the same basic guidelines. There are certain looks and shots you have to hit to make it look professional. Here’s my food video checklist:

  1.  Get good coverage – Make sure all of the recipe steps are in the shot and focused well. You want to show the steps visually instead of just writing them out.
  2. Record Close Ups – Close ups will be your money shots. These are shallow depth-of-field shots that showcase the really fun stuff, like bubbling cheese or simmering steak fat.
  3. Add Informational Text – Text is how you will communicate with your audience. Since voice-over doesn’t work for this type of video, make sure you write out the recipe steps in an interesting way during editing.
  4. GET THAT CROSS SECTION – Tear into the finished product. It’s what everyone wants. I mean, that’s the whole point of the video, right? To see food so carefully cooked get ripped open for your enjoyment.

Remember to have fun while recording these. I mean, cooking is fun, right? Don’t rip your hair out stressing the small stuff. It might take you a few tries to get it right, so take it easy and stick to the checklist.

If you want more tips from the professionals, check out PremiumBeat’s interview with one of the best in the game, Andrew Rea from Binging with Babish. Then check out some of our other articles for tips on your next cooking video.